Which films are in contention as interminable awards season ramps up?

Donald Clarke runs the rule over the likely winners ahead of this week’s festival trifecta

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (writer-director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) in Jojo Rabbit. Photograph: Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (writer-director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) in Jojo Rabbit. Photograph: Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

 

And just like that it was deep winter. The football season ceases for around 10 minutes. So we shouldn’t reel too much at the news that awards season now takes up close to half the year.

This week, with the festival trifecta of Toronto, Venice and Telluride, we enter either the last such spell of the current decade or the first of the incoming decade (history will probably go with the latter). There will be much chatter about the huge changes in the last 10 years: the rise of young Netflix; the rise of old Disney; the efforts to increase diversity.

Cinemagoers need care only that this is the period when the industry – assuming Oscar voters have the memory span of fruit flies – releases the grown-up films they hope will win the gongs.

The Irish Times will be back by Lake Ontario. In preparation, here is a heady speed through just some of the films premiering there and at the rival two events.

Deep breath.

Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort in The Goldfinch. Photograph: Warner Bros Pictures
Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort in The Goldfinch. Photograph: Warner Bros Pictures

The Toronto International Film Festival (henceforth Tiff) has the world premiere of John Crowley’s take on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. The Irish director, who had such success with Brooklyn, directs Ansel Elgort, Sarah Paulson and Nicole Kidman in a film that will need to do some taming of a massive book.

Much interest will also be directed towards Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. The New Zealander’s adaptation of a Christine Leunens novel generated unconvincing controversy when it was Chinese whispered that one Disney executive at one screening wondered if the film – concerning a German child who has Hitler as an imaginary pal – might not suit the company’s image.

There is surely little to that, but this is, nonetheless, among the first releases from awards champs Fox Searchlight since Disney bought the parent company.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in Le Mans ’66, a drama about the efforts of Ford and Ferrari to win the 24-hour car race
Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in Le Mans ’66, a drama about the efforts of Ford and Ferrari to win the 24-hour car race

Disney is also now in control of 20th Century Fox’s Le Mans ’66. Titled (bafflingly) Ford v Ferrari outside Britain and Ireland, James Mangold’s flick, also world premiering at Tiff, stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale in a drama about, well, the efforts of Ford and Ferrari to win the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour car race.

Largely unheralded by the media, Tiff unveiled a programme comprising films with as many women directors as men

Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood sounds, on paper, like Oscar bait of the highest order: the director of Can You Ever Forgive Me? casts Tom Hanks in the story of US children’s entertainer Mr Rogers. The subject matter may not, however, register outside North America.

Justin Kurzel’s The True History of the Kelly Gang, stars George MacKay and Russell Crowe in an adaptation of Peter Carey’s much-admired bushranger epic. Charles Dickens aficionados will slaver over Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield: Dev Patel leads a diverse cast in a rarer-than-you’d-think big-screen attack on the author’s “favourite child”.

The Colour Out of Space reminds us that we’ve been praying for HP Lovecraft to get in bed with Nicolas Cage since time began
The Colour Out of Space reminds us that we’ve been praying for HP Lovecraft to get in bed with Nicolas Cage since time began

Moving away from the obvious awards contenders (though you never know), the Tiff Midnight Madness strand gets to screen Richard Stanley’s first film in more than 20 years: The Colour Out of Space reminds us that we’ve been praying for HP Lovecraft to get in bed with Nicolas Cage since time began. The Nick plays a farmer coping with alien infestation. Can’t wait.

The picture with the greatest commercial potential at the trifecta must surely be Todd Phillips’s Joker. Warner Brothers’ take on the Batman villain, starring a perfectly cast Joaquin Phoenix, comes to Tiff after playing in competition at Venice.

The word “competition” is significant here. Last year, the company’s A Star is Born, before going on to secure eight Oscar nominations, also opened in Venice, but it did not compete for the Golden Lion. The same studio clearly fancies Joker’s chances with both critics and punters.

Largely unheralded by the media, Tiff unveiled a programme comprising films with as many women directors as men. The fact that so few commentators noticed helped confirm that this required fewer convolutions than other events sometimes claim. Just two of the 21 films in the main race at Venice had women directors.

Among films by women vying for attention at Tiff we find Kasi Lemmons’s Harriet, starring Cynthia Erivo as abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and Marjane Satrapi’s Radioactive, featuring Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie (is that title a wee bit on the nose?). Those pictures feel like awards contenders, but the stars will have serious competition from Alfre Woodard in Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency.

Woodard plays a warden on death row in a film that has already picked up rave reviews at Sundance. Also reappearing at Toronto after a premiere at that event nine months ago is Scott Z Burns’s The Report.

Dealing with the CIA’s descent into torture after 9/11, the thriller features acclaimed turns from Adam Driver and – as senator Dianne Feinstein – a tantalisingly “overdue” Annette Bening.

Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Rupert Goold’s Judy
Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Rupert Goold’s Judy

What else? Plenty. Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat addresses the Panama Papers. Rupert Goold’s Judy stars Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland. Michael Winterbottom’s Greed is a busy satire of the super-wealthy starring the director’s old mate Steve Coogan.

Rian Johnson takes a break from Star Wars with the Agatha Christie-styled romp Knives Out. Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn adapts Jonathan Lethem. We could go on.

There will be Irish interest at Toronto and Venice. The Canadian event welcomes Neasa Hardiman’s Sea Fever, a science fiction drama starring Hermione Corfield and Connie Nielsen; Nick Rowland’s Calm with Horses, featuring newly minted Marvel star Barry Keoghan; Shelly Love’s lovely A Bump Along the Way, set in Derry, and co-productions including Zeresenay Mehari’s Sweetness in the Belly and Malgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb.

Peter Mackie Burns’s Rialto, written by Clare polymath Mark O’Halloran, plays at the Horizons section in Venice.

The awards competitors listed at the top are all likely to emerge in Irish cinemas over the coming autumn and winter. But the streaming services are – as they did with Roma last year – continuing to stake a claim for Oscars.

We don’t know if Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, playing at Tiff, Venice and (probably) Telluride, will play theatrically here, but Netflix will certainly release the drama – starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson – in US cinemas to qualify for Oscars.

We can be modestly confident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, another Netflix release, will get some sort of cinema release in this country. Expectant fans will, however, have to wait another few weeks for the critical consensus. That film skips the trifecta to open the New York Film Festival at the end of September. Where else would Marty go?

Meanwhile, we can have fun discussing what’s going to win the People’s Choice Awards at Toronto. Only once in the last decade has the winner failed to get a best picture nomination. Green Book began its triumphant run by the lake here last year. We’re offering JoJo Rabbit as unseen 5/1 favourite. Judy and Motherless Brooklyn are our joint second favourites at 12/1.

For entertainment purposes only.

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